What are the experiences of women in their historical journey toward civil rights in the U.S.?What are the experiences of women in their historical journey toward civil rights in the U.S.?
For the time period in question, the "Second Wave" of American Feminism is one that centered on the achievement of social and economic rights. This "Second Wave" was different from its predecessor in that women were battling social perceptions that sought to lock them in externally dictated roles. It was a movement that coincided and converged while diverging with the Civil Rights Movement happening in the same time period. This movement took the same ideas of social change as being an element that had to be forceful in nature. Women's liberation marches throughout urban centers as well as slogans such as "Sisterhood is Powerful" and "I Am Woman" helped to encapsulate the struggle for reconceptualizing how women were perceived. The movement focused heavily on reproductive rights in the early 1970s landmark Supreme Court case, Roe v. Wade. The idea of women gaining Civil Rights, a struggle that still endures in different forms, focused on achieving social equity in the 1970s, economic empowerment with women in the workforce in the 1980s, and a call for political representation in the 1990s. This incremental approach is what distinguishes it from other social movements that came out of same time period, but lacked its steady and developmental growth.
This is a very broad question and there are many ways to go about answering it. The basic idea is that women have gradually gained more rights since the days in which they were not allowed to vote or hold property.
The most important milestone for women was the passage of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote. This was passed in 1920, more than 70 years after women had first organized to press for the right to vote (at the Seneca Falls Convention).
The next most important milestone came in 1964 with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. That law made it illegal to discriminate against anyone on the basis of sex. The law was followed up by other important laws like Title IX, which required educational institutions to spend money equally on men and women.
Along the way, there have been setbacks (or what have been seen by some as setbacks). Most notable among these was the failure of the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s. This proposed amendment failed at least in part because there still are reservations in many Americans' minds about women having equal rights and responsibilities. This can be seen in the continuing prohibition on women in combat roles (regardless of the need for strength) in the military.
Speaking more generally, I'd have to say that women have historically faced consistent resistance to economic, social and political gains since the first womens' groups organized back in the mid 1800s. Especially in American society, the Cult of Domesticity that suggests quite strongly that "womens' place is in the home" was very stubborn in its demise, if indeed it has, in fact, been overcome by more modern and progressive attitudes. Women still earn only 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man, and the number of female Representatives and Senators actually decreased with this last election. Women are becoming increasingly better educated than men, though, and in Washington State, where I live, we have two female Senators and a woman Governor, and the legislature is much more gender representative.
In terms of educational opportunities and employment, women have made major gains since World War II. Once excluded or virtually excluded from schools of medicine and law, women now make up significant numbers of students in both. Women doctors and lawyers are no longer professional rarities. Female pilots have also gained acceptance, in the military and in commercial aviation, as well. Another largely male-dominated enterprise is the film industry, but women are beginning to make strides there, too, moving into power broker positions as studio executives. Recently the good-old-boys club of film directors was "infiltrated" by Kathryn Bigelow who won the Oscar for her direction of The Hurt Locker, becoming the first woman to win this award and pave the way for future women directors.
Historically the women's movement has changed focus based on the times. It has worked not so much for full equal rights, but to have rights doled out a piece at a time. (voting, land ownership, place in the workforce, reproductive rights, place in politics, etc) Each piece has brought women closer to the idea of equal rights. The interesting thing about women's rights currently is the great disparity between many people's view of women. Many do not consider women "a minority" or a special group in need of more rights, while the reality of many others attitudes have kept women from many careers, money making abilities and other places. Women are still exempt in many areas that ethnic minorities have no problem entering, such as the priesthood.
Just to add to #4, I think any treatment of this question needs to consider the way in which women still do not have the same sort of equality and rights that men do, and the way in which they are still "barred" in certain ways. Some critics have come up with a term called "the glass ceiling" to describe this effect. There is still a "ceiling" that prevents women from rising to the same positions of importance, but because of legislation this ceiling has become invisible, like glass. So, while I agree that there have been significant advances in women's rights, the job is not done yet and there is still significant scope for improvement.
Recently, a report aired on NBC Nightly News stated that there are more women in the workforce in the U.S. than men. Since all women can fill the slot of a minority now they have one more opportunity that certain men do not. This may not be the reason for the increase of women in the workforce, but it does help them with one more opportunity, at least.
If you look at studies comparing the wages a male will earn over his lifetime and a female in the same profession over her lifetime there is still a glaring discrepancy. While women are more accepted into most professions now, they still lag behind in earnings.